Adopting a user-centric approach in marketing

By Hauwa Akinkunmi

It’s hard to sell to people you do not know. I guarantee you that if you’re not converting as many customers as your business should it’s because you don’t understand the people you’re selling to. The better you know them, the easier it is to persuade them to carry out an action.

This is one of the downsides of traditional marketing, the strategies focus so much on selling products that appealing to the customer plays second fiddle. Traditional marketing is a clear-cut approach — the marketer informs customers about a new product by highlighting it’s benefits and why they should use it. It’s a lot of static and aggressive selling, it’s loud, it’s a one-size-fits-all, it’s advertising.

This approach is still very much popular but now digital has changed the relationship between a customer and a business. Digital has also impacted on the sales and marketing funnel. Marketers are now finding new ways to be innovative with how they convince customers to use their products or services.

What is user-centric marketing?

It’s impossible to talk about user-centric marketing and not discuss how digital has disrupted marketing activities. Imagine if you knew every time someone stopped to look at your banner in a store or every time the information on your banner was compelling enough to convince a person to make a purchase? Do you know how that could provide better insight into the behaviour of your customer and how you can influence the decisions they make?

User-centric marketing is a strategy that places the customer at the center of marketing, product design, and delivery. With user-centric marketing, you recognise that your customers are individuals with different behaviours, pain points, and preferences. Armed with this realisation, you find opportunities and approaches to move past a one-size-fits-all approach.

It seeks to use digital tools to better understand users and their journeys so that we design our marketing strategy around them. It also looks at ways to validate our approach to a campaign at every step of the way. It aims to adapt our campaigns once they’re launched to maximise their effectiveness.

The influence of search: Paul Boag tells a story of how he applied to a university in 1990. How his choices were limited because all he had for recommendations were from slightly older friends who were already in the university and tutors. There were also one or two commercials at the local cinema and that was it. It’s interesting to see how the dynamics have changed. Today, someone wants to go to university? The first thing they do is search and instantly they get every university they could think of right in front of them.

According to Adweek, 81% of shoppers extensively research products before buying them. No one is waiting for a salesperson or a billboard advert to convince them, they’re taking action into their own hands. This power that consumers now have has changed the outcome of marketing campaigns and this is why it is important to apply a user-centric approach to marketing.

How to adopt a user-centric approach

Adopting a user-centric approach in marketing starts by really understanding your audience so the first thing to keep in mind is that customer personas are not enough. And that means we need to get to know our audience past what their tastes are — not that they have 3 children, work at a multinational and drive a Camry, but we need to understand what they’re trying to achieve, what their goals are, their objections, what influences them, and all that.
Don’t marketers already research their audience? Yes, but is it up-to-date? Consumer behavior is so rapidly changing that we need to keep up-to-date. Also, are we asking the right questions about our customers?
So, what do we need to know about users and how do we need to get to know them? One of the tools suggested by Paul Boag is called empathy mapping.

About Empathy Mapping

Although the empathy map has some similarity to the customer persona, it’s more thorough and it’s taking a different approach to asking questions about the customer. Creating an empathy map also includes carrying out user research and user experience design. You’ll find that this is much more useful for designing a marketing campaign than just knowing about somebody’s tastes and the kind of car they like to drive. I mean, what you want now can be different from what you want in five years.

The only drawback, however, is that just like a customer persona an empathy map only covers a snapshot in time. It doesn’t take into account the journey of the user in buying something and the fact that they go through a series of steps to make a purchase. This is where understanding the user journey comes in.

Mapping out a user journey

A person doesn’t suddenly decide to buy, they go on a journey till they make that purchase. So how they feel, what questions they have, what their concerns are, all of these things will change as they go on that journey. Even the touchpoints they have with your business will change depending on where they are in the journey. From finding your business through an Instagram ad or search or even a brick and mortar store, and further along in the journey when they visit your website or call your support team to get more information. There are just so many touchpoints and there’s just so much we can do right?

This is why you need to map a user journey. It starts from inception to conversion and even maintaining a relationship with your user. Users have different questions, concerns, and doubts and all these can change over time depending on where they are in the journey. So, the only way that we can know where we should be putting our effort is to understand the journey. Understand what channels our users are using and when they’re using them.

Once we understand that we can start to tailor communication appropriately for where they are on the journey and we know what channels to focus on.

I’ll use Paul Boag’s example in the user-centric marketing course about booking a holiday.
How do you feel when booking a holiday? What questions do you have? Do these questions change over time? You know, at first, you’re excited about traveling and planning a holiday. Then you realize you still have to decide what kind of flight you want to take and also work with your budget. What is the itinerary for your stay? Then at the point of purchasing your tickets, you’re thinking isn’t this a little expensive? Maybe you should dig a little bit more, for a cheaper flight and hotel to book or you’re even worried about the location of the hotel you’ve booked.
Once you’ve booked, and we’re waiting to go on holiday, that excitement builds again, and you start having other questions about what to pack.

So, you see, the journey has different characteristics along the way. It’s really interesting how the human mind works when making decisions.

You’re probably tired of seeing this now but again, you need to understand your customer. Building a user journey is great but to do that, you need to know who your user is and there’s no better way to do that than through user research.

User Research

There’s the perception that user research is expensive which seems to have become a significant barrier as to why businesses do not carry out user research but this doesn’t need to be the case.
Paul Boag in the user-centric course on CXL Institute highlights some helpful ways to carry out user research while spending little to nothing.

Find existing research: This is mostly known as secondary research. So, you start by finding information about your customer that is already sitting in your company. Yes, not all might be relevant, some might even be old information but you’ll be amazed at what that can lead to. Talk to your frontline staff, these are your sales team, customer support team, social media manager, and whoever is in charge of your analytics. These people have firsthand information about your customers.

They’ll know about where they work
Questions that they have
Most significantly, what objections they have
What reasons do they give for not buying?
What are their frustrations?
What are their struggles?
What do they wish the product does that it doesn’t do at the moment?

Your frontline staff deals with customers daily and to a good extent they understand them, they’ll have all kinds of insights that you can glean. They probably even have a database of frequently asked questions as well that they’re constantly having to answer. Ask for those too, you’ll need them.

Now we can’t rely solely on data, as a lot of what we need to understand is about people’s motivations, while data tend to focus on their behaviours and what they do. But, that said, there are things that we can learn from looking at our analytics.

Other things you can look at are:
Search terms people use before finding your website and search terms they use when they’re on your website. Search engine optimisation tools like Serpstat can help you see what people search for relating to your product or service.

Where are people giving their most attention when they visit your website? What are the most popular pages? What pages get the most dwell time? The combination of dwell time and visits will give you an indication of what areas people are most concerned with to solve their needs or answer their questions.

Social media is also a useful place to get information. What do your customers post? Who do they talk to? Which posts do they leave comments under? Who do they follow? What kind of things do they say about topics relating to your product and service?

You also need to be monitoring mentions of your competitors, do people follow them? What type of people follow them? And what do those people post?
Also, monitor the questions people are asking about your products. Those will give you indications of what your campaigns need to be addressing.

One of my favorite parts of the course were the actionable workshop ideas that Paul Boag suggested for your user survey. I have used one of these in a recent survey and to be honest, the responses have been quite insightful.
I think that these workshops or tasks can help you understand your users and how they feel about your business. They are:

Famous Person Exercise:
Ask a group of people who use your product or service, “if our company was a famous person who would it be and why”
Let them pick a person. Then, ask what it is about that person that made them choose.
They will use certain words like, he’s funny, she’s professional, etc. These words show how the outside world perceives your company. If these are negative, you’ll have to respond to these in your copy and design.
Variation: Talk about a famous person you’d like the company to be and ask customers to describe them with keywords.

Waiting Area Exercise:
If you put users in a waiting area for the kind of company you’re trying to represent, ask them, what does the waiting room look like? What’s the furniture? Wall colours? How big? Music playing?

Love Letter Exercise:
Ask users to write both a love letter and possibly a breakup letter to your company.
This exercise shows the aspects of the company that users enjoy and dislike.

Book Cover Exercise:
Users need to design a book cover to describe your company. What goes on the cover of the book (key selling points)? Inner flap (greater detail)? Spine? And, what goes on the back?
This helps you understand what users consider to be the main selling points and see how they prioritise things that matter to them based on where they put them on the book.

If you can’t find these ideal users — just look at someone outside of the company to get an objective perspective.
As you can see, adopting a user-centric approach to marketing doesn’t mean spending a lot of money on user research. None of the suggestions here involve hiring a user research company. Just start by simply collating what you know and what is readily available — your colleagues, data sources, and social media are all valuable sources that you can use to start patching together insights about your customer. Not to mention previous research that you’ve probably already done and have forgotten in a drawer somewhere.

However, all that has been listed isn’t enough research and does not give you a complete picture of your user. There are still gaps that primary research will still need to fill. But having all this information about your users can help shape the decisions you make about your products and most especially about your marketing campaigns.
A user-centric approach to marketing has the potential to help you build better campaigns, improve conversion, and acquire happy customers. Customers who are willing to recommend your business to friends and acquintances.

Credit: Hauwa Akinkunmi

Source: Medium


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